Justice. Mercy. Religion. Power. Sex. The former two words are at the core of this season at the Globe, and perhaps no other works of the bard better encapsulate those themes than Measure for Measure.
Measure for Measure is classified as a comedy- but that doesn’t necessarily indicate that its themes are purely trivial. Just the opposite, in fact. The duke of Vienna decides to take a sabbatical for ‘diplomatic reasons’, leaving Angelo as his replacement. Angelo begins an Umbridge-esque regime against sexuality, and Claudio is sentenced to death when he impregnates his fiancée. Claudio turns to his sister, Isabella, who has recently become a novice nun- but when she tries to reason with Angelo, he makes the most hypocritical bargain he could possibly make: sleep with him to save her brother, or he dies. Angelo, Isabella, Claudio and the Duke (who may or may not have been there the whole time, wink wink) face formidable moral dilemmas, while the clowns of the subplot deal with Angelo’s policies. The duke’s return calls for a reckoning, a conclusion if you will- one that would be better served by actually watching the play!
The Globe’s production gives exactly what one expects, and even yearns for. Period[VB1] costumes, a performance style that works best under the open air and with an audience leaning on the stage, and the lovely glow of minimal lighting. The performances too, are quite exceptional. Mariah Gale, as always, gives a phenomenal and nuanced performance as Isabella. Her speeches subdue the audience as well as Angelo; we understand his infatuation with her mind (though he takes it a bit far). In her moments of decision, we are left leaning into the Globe stage, mesmerized.
Dominic Rowan’s Duke navigates between moments of gravitas and levity with poise and authenticity. Dean Nolan’s Elbow and Barnadine as well as Brendan O’ Hea’s Lucio bring boastful and much needed moments of broad comedy- and Dominic Dromgoole’s direction helps as well to balance out what is, to be frank, a very tragic comedy. There are physical references to dances of today as well as bawdy physical comedy that certainly appeals to those who may be lost in the language, along with gorgeous verse and sexual politics that tug at your heartstrings and lead you to ball up your fists in anger at the characters’ misdeeds.
Measure for Measure is a joy of a performance, and reminds us that where tragedy lives, so can laughter. Perhaps the happy ending comes with a ton of loopholes, but nevertheless when there’s a will there’s a way. The joy of a production at the Globe is all-encompassing when stepping inside its doors. The knowledge that everyone in that room is complicit in one of the most bizarre and joyous events one can take part in: period theatre in period dress in the precise venue of the period, all while able to look at the evening sky and feel the subtle chill. It’s overwhelmingly alive- and all the more so because the production is provocative, relevant, and highly compelling. I’ll be back at the Globe soon. 4/5
Review written by Vivian Belosky.
Measure for Measure was shown at the Globe from Saturday 20 June until Saturday 17th October. For more information on what’s showing this season at the Globe, visit here…